One year after the explosion at Chempark Leverkusen, great dangers remain

One year ago, on July 27, 2021, one of the most serious industrial accidents in recent history in the chemical industry occurred at Chempark Leverkusen north of Cologne. Seven workers died in an explosion at a tank farm storing chemical waste. Two of the workers who were killed were immediately found and pulled out. Five were initially considered missing. The seventh death was discovered only after several days.

Firefighting work following the explosion at Chempark Leverkusen on July 27, 2021 [Photo by Currenta]

The sufferings of the bereaved, the wives and children of the workers who died, are great. It is aggravated by the fact that the causes of the accident have not yet been fully clarified and those responsible in the company are not held accountable for the explosion.

A survivor said Rheinische Post a year later: “I feel like I’ve been mutilated.” Her husband was on the morning shift on the day of the accident. The couple with a young daughter was happy. They had bought a house and had dreams and plans. The disaster at the operator Currenta’s chemical park plunged them and other families into the abyss.

Those affected and the workers at Chempark are tormented by the question of how the disaster could have happened and who is to blame. “I really hope those responsible are held accountable. Even if it doesn’t bring back our loved ones,” said the grieving mother Rheinische Post. But one is always postponed, it will take a while. Your lawyer does not yet have access to the files.

Chempark with locations in Leverkusen, Dormagen and Krefeld is one of the largest chemical parks in Europe. At the end of 2016, around 48,000 people were employed here by around 70 companies and service providers based there. This includes the chemical group Bayer and many of its spin-off companies. Currenta is the operating company of Chempark. The company belonged to Bayer until 2007 as the Industry Services division. Until three years ago, Bayer still held a majority stake in Currenta. Australian financial investor Macquarie then took over a majority stake in the company.

The explosion occurred in the tank farm of the Chempark disposal center in Leverkusen-Bürrig. Chemical waste from all other companies in the Chempark is recycled and disposed of here, as well as hazardous waste from outside companies. Three tanks of organic solvents were damaged by the explosion, which caused a fire in the tank farm. Each tank was filled with 200,000 to 300,000 liters. All were “completely or partially destroyed,” as Chempark director Lars Friedrich announced after the explosion.

Shortly after the explosion, it was clear that chemical reactions had occurred in the tanks. However, the operator Currenta only published the information that the authorities forced it to. So it took a long time until a clearer picture of the course of the accident and its cause emerged.

WDR (West German Broadcasting Corporation) reported on 17 June 2022 that Currenta workers and contractors who died or were injured in the explosion had not been given sufficient information about the hazardous nature of the waste. “In the case of the severe explosion at the Chempark in Leverkusen, workers at the hazardous waste facility apparently did not have the necessary information about the hazardous nature of the waste.” This follows from a report by the Ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia. the Environment in the state parliament. Among other things, information on the thermal sensitivity of the waste was missing.

The report states: “Investigations into the cause of the accident carried out so far have shown that the temperature-sensitive waste delivered from Denmark did not contain all the necessary information about the hazardous nature of the waste, such as the tendency to decompose with simultaneous self-heating and volume expansion.”

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